Gear Guy

What’s the best backpack for a cash-strapped student?

I'm a student who's planning a summer road trip to visit some neighboring states and maybe even Canada. I hope to leave the truck for a few days at a time and do a little backpacking, so I'm looking for a pack. Remember, I'm a starving college student, so nothing too expensive please! Mike San Luis Obispo, California

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There should be lots of packs to suit you, and I’ll assume you don’t want to spend more than $200.

The first question, of course, is what size to get. I should think that anything between 4,000 and 5,000 cubic inches would be fine. That’ll give you enough room for three or four days of gear and food, without creating a monster pack that lets you pack TOO much. REI’s Morning Star 75 ($145; is at the high end of that range, coming with a decent suspension built around dual aluminum stays and good gear-organizing design. The Alps Mountaineering Red Tail is about the same size, sells for $170, and has a wide range of belt and shoulder strap options ( It’s a good-looking, cleanly designed pack. Kelty’s Tornado 4000 is at the low end of the same size range, and sells for $150 (

You might also look at Granite Gear’s Nimbus Ozone 3800, a new, well-regarded pack that sells for $195 and features just under 4,000 cubic inches of capacity ( It has excellent suspension for a pack in this price range, so you could really overstuff the thing and still carry it comfortably.

Have a great summer!

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